Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Rise of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in the recent 2013 Indian assembly elections

The Rise of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in the recent 2013 Indian assembly elections
The Assembly elections of Delhi held last week has seen a resounding defeat of the dominant Congress party - a party that had ruled the national capital of India for the last three consecutive terms and the country for over 48 years. The triumph of the AAP, a party unknown till last year, which came a close second after the dominant opposition party, the Bhartia Janta Dal, is a reflection of the voting clout of the new youth centric middle class. This group is not related to the old traditional middle class families of Delhi who over time and through generations, have captured all the exorbitantly priced real estate in Delhi. This elite group has traditionally had access to the ruling class via family links or membership to British style clubs such as the Gymkhana and the India International Center. Then there is the government class which depends on the largesse and goodwill of the politicians and so is often reluctant to upset the establishment. Both these groups have been the traditional power base on which the fortunes of the congress party have rested since the now deceased Prime Minister Indira Gandhi converted the party into a family based enterprise.

The new middle class supporting AAP which is similar across urban centers in India, is educated, and has migrated from smaller cities purely on the basis of its merit and professional skills. This group is based in the trans- Jamuna suburbs and beyond, where real estate is affordable but increasingly distant because of traffic gridlock, from the employment hub of central Delhi.  This new Delhite is also frustrated with the lack of access to the power structures of India that comes so easily to the old time residents of the city. Traditional politics and political parties are in the control of dynastic families and their cohorts or tribal caste based rulers whose goals and morality are different from the new urban class. The increasing corruption that continues to transfer wealth to power brokers, has disgusted the new Delhites as access to essential resources like water and electricity are impacted. A house in the upper class neighborhoods of central Delhi such as Jorbagh and Defence colony means no power cuts and water shortages while living in Patparganj where the AAP won with a huge majority, means a few hours of municipal water supply and electricity. Most people in these and other outer suburbs depend on generators and water tanks to ensure a regular supply. The outlying colonies of Noida, Gurgoan and Faridabad that are no longer in Delhi’s municipal limits, and have crept into the neighboring states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, have it even worse. The power brokers in these states are even more brazen in bartering access to power and wealth along tribal and family lines.

In the buildup to the current elections, many other groups in Delhi have expressed disgust with the deteriorating infrastructure and the distribution of public utilities, and have shown a willingness to support “anti-establishment” parties like AAP. The poorest of the poor who serve the middle class and lives in unauthorized colonies surrounding New Delhi, have access to no running water and electricity unless they are creative enough to steal it from regular sources. They also live under a constant threat of removal and resettlement to the outskirts of Delhi from where it is inordinately expensive to travel to the homes they serve. Even the traditional elite of Delhi which routinely voted for the Congress has in recent years, maybe in a desire to stand shoulder to shoulder with their western counterparts, expressed disgust with the Congress party and with business as usual.

The downside to the ascendency of this new class of leadership and its supporters is their unreliability and attention span to things “political” towards which they have traditionally expressed disgust. Lacking family sources of income on which they can fall back, this group has to work hard to maintain their middle class lifestyles in an expensive city like Delhi. Many of those who have come to volunteer for the AAP are shop-keepers or run independent businesses which can only survive a short-term absence of the owner. Besides a shared desire for transparency and accountability in governance, the members of AAP lack any ideological basis for coming together. The lone social scientist among their ranks has stitched together a 70 point manifesto with its central focus on anti- corruption, by way of the  “Jan lockpal” bill which allows people to bring down corrupt politicians and officials via citizen committees.  Other points include inflation reduction, access to resources, and transparency in government functioning. What the manifesto lacks is theoretical grounding which can makes it palatable over the long range despite its shortcomings.

The romance of belonging to a protest movement can unfortunately soon run out when the time comes for the nitty-gritty of governance. The exaggerated and populist natures of the promises made during a brutal campaign, have made the realization of these goals problematic.  This is especially significant given the time bound deadline the AAP members have imposed upon themselves during the hurly burly of political campaigning. Many of the followers of the party never dreamt that they could be in a position to form a government.  Lacking experience and given their professed repugnance to negotiate with established parties, makes it hard for them to rise up to the challenge. Reducing the cost of electricity by half and providing free water for all Delhites, both campaign promises put forth by AAP, is near impossible given Delhi’s rapidly expanding population, limited fresh water resources, high inflation and the free falling value of the Indian rupee. So, sadly we continue to hear sloganeering from AAP cadres about how they came into politics to reform and not govern which then begs the question of what will be the challenge of reform in the absence of any desire to implement such reforms.

The traditional parties which include the two dominant players, the BJP and the Congress are naturally exploiting the reluctance of the AAP to take over the reins.  They are also indirectly encouraging the AAP to push for a new assembly election in Delhi where they hope to discredit the new party prior to the oncoming national elections of 2014. The AAP aware of the danger of exaggerated expectations and the display of bickering inevitable in any immature new party, is refusing to take on the challenge to form a government despite offers of support from their erstwhile rivals. The deadlock continues but having lost the opportunity to take on the challenge posed by those they defeated,  AAP  now faces the danger of being discredited  prior to achieving their ultimate goal of launching a national party in time for the 2014 elections.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Documentary: A Dream for Change

My recent documentary about the artist Anu Das, can be seen here. It is called A Dream for Change. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Of Kings and Queens: A Short Story by Suneeta Misra

Here is my new novelette written as a fractured fairy tale. This time around, the protagonist is a little boy who survives dangers with the help of a young girl called Maya.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Interview with Christoph Fischer

New post on writerchristophfischer

“Rani of Rampur” by Suneeta Misra

by writerchristophfischer
Rani is a journalist in a small local newspaper in Bareilly, India. Besides her schoolteacher father, who is also the neighborhood poet and drunk, her family includes two sisters and a mother, Shakuntala, who has a past history of her own. The mother had run away from a small village, Rampur, in India, rebelling against a powerful father, who was forcing her to marry an ambitious and morally dubious suitor, Vir Singh. She leaves behind her only other sister, Savitri, who ends up marrying the jilted man. Besides being unethical, this son-in-law also had a wealthy first wife, who died in questionable circumstances, leaving behind a traumatized young son called Durlabh.
In the years that Shakuntala is away from Rampur, Vir Singh inherits both the wealth and the political legacy her father leaves behind after his death. Vir also rises in power and becomes a Member of Parliament from the dominant national party. His eldest son, Durlabh, from his first wife, is now engaged to the daughter of the Chief Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh. This will end up solidifying Vir Singh's position both in the party and the State.
Twenty-five years after being disowned by her family, Shakuntala receives a letter from her sister, Savitri. Rani has been invited by her aunt to come to Rampur to help in the preparations for the forthcoming marriage. "I am unwell," says Savitri, "and cannot do this by myself." As enticement, she also adds that this will soften Vir Singh and improve relations between the two families for the future.
Shakuntala takes this invitation as an opportunity for her daughter to get details and photographs of the estate, so they can lay claim to her share. The Supreme Court of India, she says, now allows daughters an equal share in inherited family property.
With curiosity and a sense of purpose, Rani sets forth on the journey to Rampur, where she hopes, if nothing else, she will at least get a good story for her newspaper. She meets her three unfriendly cousins and the long suffering Durlabh, who seems incapable of standing up to anybody. The Aunt seems to have her own reasons for inviting Rani, which might just call for seducing Durlabh away from his powerfully connected fiancée in order to clear the way for her own wastrel son, Vijay. Meanwhile, the daughter of the house, Anjali, is playing a dangerous game in consorting with a lower caste boy from the village, who is the son of a political rival of Vir Singh. The youngest son, Roop, is also playing with fire when he begins to pursue the angry bastard of Vir Singh, who is born of the village courtesan clever enough to have contrived a good education for her son.
In this dangerous household where she witnesses Vir Singh commit murder, Rani navigates her way to keep herself, and others she hold dear, safe. Will Rani achieve her goal of securing her mother's share of the ancestral property and bring the two families together? Will she stop her Uncle from wantonly destroying the lives of others, and get a scoop for her newspaper?
Read the book to find out what happens!
My review:
“Rani of Rampur” by Suneeta Misra was recommended to me by a fellow reviewer and I am glad he praised it the way he did. It is an excellent murder mystery, or at least that is how it is advertised in some places, but it is also so much more. It is the story of a dysfunctional family, a story about family values and the caste system in India, about Village life, about politics and corruption.
The heroine, journalist Rani, is sent to assist her aunt with a family wedding where she gets drawn into the investigation of her uncle’s murder while courting romance with the groom of the forthcoming wedding.
This book really works on so many levels and anyone who has read other works set in India will appreciate how hard it is to translate this remote way of living to a Western audience, yet Suneeta Misra does a lovely job creating an understanding of the setting and the motifs of the characters/
I loved every word of the story and highly recommend it to those already familiar with the world the story is set in and those who know little about it. I have an admittedly strong liking of the Indian culture and its literature but I prefer this book to many of the well acclaimed novels from the subcontinent and urge you to dive in to it and let yourself be amazed.
Interview with Suneeta Misra:
How did you come to writing in the first place?
I have viewed myself as a storyteller for as long as I can remember. I heard stories at the feet at my two grandmothers who though not schooled in letters, were wise beyond measure. Their wisdom came as much from their experiences and the tragedies they endured, as from their courage to meet life’s challenges head on. I am a world history teacher, documentary film-maker, and now a writer. All these roles to me amount to what my grandmothers did so long ago; tell their stories, and hope someone, somewhere will glean something from what they had to share – be it wisdom or simple entertainment.
Why a murder mystery and why the wedding setting?
I grew up reading murder mysteries. In India, because of our history as a colonized society, we obsessed over British writers like Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. I feel, moreover, that the mystery genre is a great context within which to explore human relationships and motivations.
Where weddings are concerned, everyone in India loves to be invited to a big fat wedding, complete with elephants and palanquins - the grander, the better. India is a country where the modern and feudal, coexist side by side. We have state of the art software companies and we have grand traditional arranged marriage where people waste millions of rupees to impress their family and friends. The poor and the village folk are not exempt from these grand theatrical productions. An impoverished family will often borrow much more than what they can comfortably pay back, to get a daughter married. A son’s marriage is easier because the girl’s family has the burden of paying the bills and a dowry to gratify the groom’s family. Therefore, an Indian wedding is a fascinating context within which to explore human emotions such as greed, ambition, and envy.
When did you first have the idea for this book?
Having been raised in an urban milieu, I decided to travel to an Indian village last summer to explore the “real” India which is where more than half its people still live. Since I had no village to call my own, I “borrowed” a friend’s village in the interiors of eastern Uttar Pradesh. I shot two documentaries in the village, chronicling the developments made in the area of education for girls, and especially the lowest of the low, the dalit girls. I documented many stories of girls who showed great courage in the face of challenges. Out of these stories grew a desire to create a fictional story of a strong Indian girl, who takes on challenges that come her way without the need of a prince charming to save her. This story is meant for a new adult (18-25) audience and so I was striving to drive the point home that Indian women should make themselves so capable that no one can question their capabilities. The teacher in me is unfortunately, always looking for lessons learned.
How long did it take you to write?
About six months back, during the summer of 2012, I broke my leg. Being confined at home, gave me the motivation to finally put my ideas to paper. I started to first write short stories and scripts one of which, “Recuperation,” is being made into a short film with the help of a storytelling group to which I belong. Once I started writing, it was hard to stop and I soon graduated to longer stories. Rani of Rampur grew out of this exercise. Another story that I have written but not yet polished, is “Daredevil Durga” which is the tale of an autistic girl, again in a rural milieu, who overcomes challenges, helps protect her family, and in the process, solve a murder mystery. Just like “Rani” refers to a queen in Hindi, Durga refers both to a goddess in Indian mythology who is a slayer of demons and to a warrior queen who fought the British in the 1500s. The editing process is a killer though. Being a teacher, I have too much of an ego to accept outside help. I initially did all the editing myself, and then brought in my daughter, a writer in her own right, to help me to fine tune the manuscript. I do plan to find a good outside editor the next time around if only to make the process less tedious.
How comfortable do you feel writing about an Eastern culture for a Western audience? Do you write for the Western audience?
I think a good story should appeal to all audiences, eastern or western. In fact, I love the historical novels of David Liss, which are set in the Europe of the 1700s, an environment and ethos completely alien to me. Yet I found myself loving those stories and gaining an understanding of another culture and historical period at the same time. Then, there are the stories of Junot Diaz and Lisa See, which are set in Latin America and China, both of which are set in a different culture and yet have become hugely popular.
How do you write? What is your writing environment like?
I have a little sunroom at the back of my house where I write, surrounded by nature and somewhat isolated from the modern world outside. I can write only when I am isolated from everyone and everything else. The marketing of my first book is proving to be a great big distraction. I hate having to check my blogs, writing sites, social media, day in and day out. It takes away from the writing and depresses the heck out of me when I see the flat lines of the sales chart. I need to bring some balance and complete my next book. Towards that end, I have asked a friend to help out with the publicity.
How many rewrites did it take you?
I first wrote it down as a script in my own language, Hindi, and then translated it into English, in a story format. I still hope to make it into a film one day. It took me a couple of rewrites to add in the details to give it a sense of place, and depth to the characters. The editing, as I said, was the worst part. Between my daughter and me, we must have read it at least seven times.
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
My daughter and I are the editors and none of my readers as yet, have complained about the quality of writing, though two have commented on my “formal” style of writing which is different from American English. By “formal” I think they mean “British” which is a little more long winded, than the direct American style often referred to as “plain speaking.”
Who are your favourite authors / influences?
I love the works of many writers. I adore F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose use of the English language and ability to manipulate words is magical. I love an Indian writer, R.K. Narayan, whose simple and minimalist writing style evokes the foibles and idiosyncrasies of ordinary Indians living in both the cities and villages of India. I love Amitav Ghosh, a relatively new Indian writer, for bringing colonial Indian history alive in the “Sea of Poppies.” I also enjoyed Junot Diaz’s magical realism as a form of story-telling that evokes the brutality of the Latin American experiences in a palatable but authentic format.
Who would play your characters in a movie? Who would you want to direct it?
This is a difficult question for me to answer because your audience is unfamiliar with the Indian actors I have in mind for enacting the roles of the main characters. I would like to direct such a film myself and I am making short films and taking film classes to work towards that goal. If I ever wrote a story with a western protagonist, I could think of no one better than Johnny Depp. I do have a historical story in mind set during the time of colonial India….! I like directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo Del Toro, who have a unique way of looking at the world.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reviews of Rani of Rampur

Brings' India aliveJanuary 20, 2013
This review is from: Rani of Rampur (Kindle Edition)
If you are looking for a formulaic book set in a Western milieu, this book is not for you.

However if you are willing to be dragged out of the comfort zone of your drawing room in the Western world, then wade in.

Suneeta Misra's Rani of Rampur is the story of Rani, a young educated journalist in a small town in India. She visits her aunt to help in the wedding preparations of her aunt's son and stumbles across murder,political machinations, family secrets and cover ups.

This is an India far from the Bollywood stereotypes. This is an India in which the law treats women equal to men but society does not. An India where change is happening rapidly but deep rooted prejudices are harder to change.

Misra's book brings alive the colors and smells of life in a small India town where time moves that bit slower and secrets bubble just beneath the placid veneer.

Bravo Ms. Misra for a fantastic first book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful story, vivid settingJanuary 18, 2013
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Rani of Rampur (Kindle Edition)
This is one of those stories I loaded on my phone to be read casually when waiting for the train, etc... I ended up gobbling the whole thing down in two sittings. It would have been one sitting, but I got interrupted.
Rani of Rampur is set in India. That alone makes it stand out from so many books out there. But you aren't just reading the story or seeing the story through the author's eyes, you are immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of India. Really vivid imagery. Suneeta Misra also gives you the language of India, in terms of how people converse, expessions, casts. You experience the setting more so than read about it.
The story itself is also fascinating. There are lots of unexpected events that keep you turning the pages. The motivations for characters feel very real and, although the dialog is more formal than it would be if set in America, it also feels legitimate for the setting.
I would recommend this book for anyone wanting a good story in a unfamiliar setting. Plus, you get to learn many of the customs and traditions of India, good or bad. Well done, Suneeta Misra! I will read more books from this author.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent readJanuary 22, 2013
This review is from: Rani of Rampur (Kindle Edition)
"Rani of Rampur" by Suneeta Misra was recommended to me by a fellow reviewer and I am glad he praised it the way he did. It is an excellent murder mystery, or at least that is how it is advertised in some places, but it is so much more. It is the story of a dysfunctional family, a story about family values and the caste system in India, about Village life, about politics and corruption.
The heroine, journalist Rani, is sent to assist her aunt with a family wedding where she gets drawn into the investigation of her uncle's murder while courting romance with the groom of the forthcoming wedding.
This book really works on so many levels and anyone who has read other works set in India will appreciate how hard it is to translate this remote way of living to a Western audience.
I loved every word of the story and highly recommend it to those already familiar with the world the story is set in and those who know little about it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rani of Rampur - Book ReviewDecember 30, 2012
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This review is from: Rani of Rampur (Kindle Edition)
Rani of Rampur is a well written debut novel by Suneeta Misra. I liked the way Ms. Misra has visualized the story. The characters come alive as the story is played out in the village of Rampur. We see this happen mostly through the eyes of Rani, a poor but educated city girl from Bareilly. The references to the politics of India, land laws, and women's empowerment come through in the story, and we understand that these subject areas are where Ms. Misra's heart lies. Waiting to see what she will be penning down next!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A story that is full of twists and turns of a family in IndiaJanuary 27, 2013
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This review is from: Rani of Rampur (Kindle Edition)
Rani was by far my favorite character. As she plays a journalist in India, she views a family who are unequal in many ways. Although the book took some time to catch on for me, when it did I could not put it down. The Grammar was very good, and the insightfullness from a womans view was good. The mystery mixed with the facts of life mixed well and made for a great read for the fictional and the non fictional alike. Great job!

It did however make me wonder if there had to have been alot of research done and if the book could have been written as a non fiction educational book rather than the fiction story it includes. Its certainly got both.

I will be looking for more from this author.
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Rani of Rampur available on

Rani of Rampur is the story of a young journalist, Rani, who travels to a sleepy village in the interiors of northern India, to visit her estranged aunt's family and finds intrigue, murder and even supernatural forces at play in the deceptively peaceful, rural landscape.

Interview with Chaitime

Five Questions With: Suneeta Misra

Hello Everyone, 

I am posting an interview with Suneeta Misra, the author of Rani of RampurIf you have some time, I encourage you to check out this novel, and her blog: Enjoy! More reviews and other fun stuff coming your way soon!

1.     What is your background and how did you get involved in writing? 
      I have been a Maryland public school teacher for the last 20 years, and have always been involved in encouraging my students to write. I grew up in India, hearing folktales from my grandmothers, about the different gods and goddesses of Hinduism. In fact, in Asia, as in Africa, oral storytelling is a way of passing down cultural values. All children are told stories about the past history of their country or community. I also got interested in making documentaries on the education of lower-caste girls in India, who have been kept out of the school system for so long. While shooting for a documentary, I was humbled by the challenges that many of these girls had faced in order to complete their education. Inspired by some of the stories I heard, I decided to write a fictionalized account of a strong Indian girl who refuses to become a victim, and in fact, ends up rescuing some of those who are dear to her.

2.  Tell me more about writing Rani of Rampur, and how you developed the characters and specific situations in the novel.
      As I said before, I have always wanted to write stories with a strong female protagonist, due to  my interest in the education of lower-caste girls in India. I also have an abiding interest in the mystery genre, and so I thought that combining these two interests would make it a page-turner, and a much more interesting tale.

3.  Why did you choose to talk about the politics of India in your story, which could otherwise be categorized as a mystery? 
      I believe that you cannot separate the politics of India, which is so volatile, from any story about the interactions between the land-owning rich and the landless poor. Since its independence in 1948, India has been a democracy, and has tried to bring about land redistribution, to balance the scales between the rich and the poor. In reality, it has not succeeded, and much of the land is in the hands of a small percentage of people, in a country that still has a largely agricultural economy. Therefore, the relationship between the “landed and the landless”, especially in rural India, is  exploitative.

4.   In discussing this book with others, I have often heard the following question: Why are many of the male characters in this book evil? Please discuss your thoughts on this matter. 
      India has a patriarchal society, and thus much of the power is still in the hands of the male members of the family. Women are often viewed as minions and this is surprising in a country which has a history replete with strong warrior queens and a major religion dominated by female deities. Despite these contradictions, the relationship between men and women in India remains exploitative, with females enduring the brunt of society’s injustices.  

5. Tell me about what’s next for you.
      I am currently working on my second novel, which is again set in a fictitious village in India. It is about a much younger autistic girl. Durga, who overcomes overwhelming odds, to save her friends and family from evil. In this book, I have tried to look at the world through the eyes of this highly intelligent autistic child, in contrast to that of her sister, who is illiterate, but normal in the eyes of society.

Review of Rani of Rampur

Book Review: Rani of Rampur by Suneeta Misra

Hello Bookworms!

Today, I will review a mystery I recently read, titled Rani of Rampur by Suneeta Misra, a new author. This novel follows a young journalist named Rani, who lives with her family in Barielly, a village in Northern India. She travels to another village, Rampur, to visit her mother's estranged sister, and to help plan a family wedding. Along the way, she uncovers long-buried secrets, and encounters plenty of drama and political intrigue.

I really enjoyed this book. It is well-written, interesting, and fast-paced. The main character was well-developed and there is a colorful cast of supporting (also well-developed) characters as well. This book is a gritty, thriller-type novel, that exposes the dirty underbelly of life in rural India, so some aspects may shock those readers with more conservative sensibilities. This, however, is the reality of life in the village, and as such, is necessary for the reader to get a more complete picture.

Being of Indian origin, I was familiar with many of the terms and cultural aspects described in the book. However, a lot of it was still new to me. I have only visited the big, modern cities, such as Mumbai and Delhi, during my travels. I have little knowledge of the ins and outs of village life and its unique hardships. Learning about this was fascinating to me, and I would love to read more books like this.

My only complaint was that I wish there was more to the book! I would like to hear more about Rani's adventures, and also the other characters. The author made them very realistic and "fleshed-out". Even the minor characters (like Mr. Tramp, a stray dog) resonated with me. Additionally, the book's setting was established well. I felt like I was there with Rani, uncovering the secrets of the household. I could almost smell the spices and hear the music, so to speak.

All in all, this is a book worth checking out. The quick, fast-paced style and the grittiness of the story help make it a unique, fun read. I look forward to seeing what else the author has to offer.

My Rating: 5 stars

The link to the Kindle version of the book is below:

Happy Reading!

Interview with Matt Posner

What's your name and occupation, if any, besides writing, and where do you live? 
My name is Suneeta Misra and I live in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Besides being a writer and a documentary film-maker, I am also a teacher and I am currently in special education. I have toyed with the idea of having a pen name for my novels but decided that despite my reserve, brazening it out is the best approach. Now comes the hard part of marketing and laying my soul bare for all to see and pick at. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, is what I tell my students.
What do you write and why do you write it?
My interest is in the education and the empowerment of the girl child in India. I have made a few short films in this area and during the process of film-making, I became interested in making a feature film on a strong female protagonist. Towards that end, I first decided to write a story, which I then have turned into a screenplay. Of course, this could all be a pipe dream and I might never find a financier for turning this story into a motion picture. But one can always hope. Storytelling, in the traditional sense, is what I love to do, no matter the medium.
Describe your current book and your next project.
“Rani of Rampur” is created for a new adult audience and is centered on a young journalist called Rani, which incidentally means a queen in Hindi. She travels to her ancestral village in order to reconnect with her estranged aunt’s family and in the process, stumbles onto intrigue, brutality and murder. My next book is going to have a much younger protagonist, Durga, which is the name of an Indian Goddess who represents power and the destruction of evil. She is a high functioning autistic girl who, despite her challenges, proves to be loyal and brave in the face of danger.
Since your next book features an autistic child, comment about the top autistic fiction out there, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
I found the book to be very engrossing and emotional. The protagonist’s (Christopher) voice was well developed and unique. Most importantly, it allowed the reader to delve into the mind of the autistic child. The specific challenges that he faces because of his inability to lie, or to make mental pictures of colloquiums such as “skeletons in a closet,” was heartrending.
What is your reaction to Temple Grandin's writings on autism?
It is an amazing insight into the mind of an autistic child from their own perspective. Special education teachers like me, are taught early on to chunk and scaffold our lessons and to also include sensory activities into our teaching. Autistic children benefit from this kind of innovation in differentiated instruction. My next book, which has an autistic protagonist, focuses on the idea that minds can work differently. As Grandin herself has said, society needs all these different minds. The fact that Grandin can think of ways to make slaughter houses more humane is not something I would be able to think of. To me, slaughter is inhumane, period. Nonetheless, in a meat eating country like America, such understanding is vital.
How is autism viewed and treated differently in India than in the United States?
In India, kids on the lower end of the Autism Rating Scale are viewed as “retarded.” The higher functioning children probably blend with the regular student population. There is little attempt even in big city schools, to differentiate instruction or to have separate classes for children with disabilities. The situation in the rural areas is even worse. These children are not allowed in most schools, even though the Right to Education Act mandates that they be included in regular classes. While making my documentary which is set in an Indian village in Uttar Pradesh, I saw government schools with few resources, and many even lacking bathroom facilities. It is no wonder that children and especially girls drop out in large numbers from such schools. There is no question of providing access to children with disabilities even in private schools frequented by the middle and upper classes. None of the schools I have visited in India even have a ramp for a wheelchair.
Recommend to readers a book by someone else including why you like it
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is a well-researched book that weaves real events with a fictionalized account of how they unfolded. The characters from the Chicago World Fair are all real, as are the murders committed by a serial killer during the same time period. The narrative is so thrilling that it makes the reader feel that they are living through the events. I highly recommend it because historical mysteries are my weakness and because this is a taut, well written thriller.
Another story I loved reading was “Half of a Yellow Sun,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the  Nigerian Civil War. It tells us that violence can have a transformative impact on the human soul. Very much like the great book “The Things they Carried” by Tim O’Brien, it makes the observation that there is little bravery in going to war despite societal pressures that justify such an extreme option.
Tell an interesting experience from your life as a writer.
My story “Recuperation” was recently made into a short film and as I sat through the editing process with the director and the editor, I was amazed to see the characters come to life. The director’s interpretation was, however, very different from what I had envisioned in my head. It is difficult for an author to come to terms with changes that are inevitably made when translating a story to a different medium.
Tell an interesting experience from a non-writing job you've had.
When making my documentary last summer in India, I had to adjust to life in a rural area, something that I had never experienced before. I had to get used to life without several amenities that I had taken for granted, such as air-conditioning and clean water. It was, nonetheless, a rewarding experience because I was able to bond with the students, parents and teachers in that one village. This allowed them to open up to me about the challenges they face on a daily basis. Eventually this experience enriched both me personally, and my documentary.
Since we are both special education teachers,  let's talk about that. What are the challenges and obstacles, but also the greatest joys of working with special needs kids?
I have been a general education world history teacher for 20 years and a special education teacher for the last one year. It has been enormously difficult to come to terms with the challenges faced by both the students and teachers in this area. It has also been rewarding to see how much I learned by the end of the year. My greatest reward was when an autistic boy who had extremely bad handwriting, wrote me a thank you letter at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, using the template we taught him to use, to better organize his words.
What do you wish politicians properly understood about special education?
That all children can learn but they just learn differently and not necessarily to perform adequately on a standardized test. Children with learning challenges need the modifications they are provided for testing and I feel, the whole testing environment is stressful on them and on the school as a whole. Teachers begin teaching to the test because scores are viewed as a reflection of their capabilities. My school district has adopted a pilot program that provides bonuses for teachers with high test scores at the end of the year. This year, the voluntary evaluation system has become mandatory, leading to much stress across the board.
Write about your favorite teacher.
My favorite teacher was my mathematics teacher in high school, who never gave up on me, despite my frustrations with challenging calculus problems. He has retired now and was thrilled to hear from me when I called recently to wish him happy birthday. When our students come back for a visit to thank us, it gives us an opportunity to see the difference we can make. Most of my students come from poor, immigrant neighborhoods and it is very rewarding to see how much progress a student can make in one year.